While the United States is not the world’s chocolate capital in terms of production and consumption – per capita consumption in the US is 4.8 kilograms per year in comparison with Switzerland’s 9.1 kilograms per year – many American dog owners are still rightly concerned about chocolate ingestion among their pets. The consumption of chocolates among canines can have serious side effects since these food items are considered poisonous for them so much so that many cases result in death.
Dogs also have an acute sense of smell capable of sniffing out your hidden chocolate stash and a proclivity to eat almost everything, a combination that increases the risks for a veterinary emergency. As a dog owner, you have to be vigilant about keeping all sources of chocolates including baking ingredients, baked goods, and candies away from your pet.
Methylxanthines Are the Culprits
Pure chocolate (i.e., dark chocolate) is derived from the roasted seeds of the cacao tree (Theobroma cacao). When the cacao seeds are processed for human consumption, the dark chocolate is a rich source of antioxidants that scientists assert are good for your health.
But chocolate also contains methylxanthines, particularly caffeine and theobromine, which are toxic to animals. This is because dogs cannot break down and excrete these substances as well as humans thus their high vulnerability to the food product.
The signs of chocolate poisoning will not be immediately apparent. But when you keep chocolates in the house, you have to be vigilant about the following warning signs of chocolate poisoning in your dog.
- Increased body temperature
- Increased heart rate
- Increased reflex responses
- Low blood pressure
- Rapid breathing
- Muscle rigidity
While these symptoms may also be indicative of other illnesses and injuries, you should consider chocolate poisoning when you check your dog’s mouth and see traces of the food item. You should not wait for the advanced signs, such as weakness, cardiac failure, and coma, to be observable before rushing your pet into its veterinarian’s clinic.
Note: When you brush your dog’s teeth on a daily basis, you will likely find early signs of chocolate consumption. Your pet’s professional dog groomer at PetSmart may even provide tips on detecting the signs of chocolate poisoning as they may have training on handling basic veterinary emergency situations. Indeed, aside from the usual professional grooming services, you can get tips on dog care from your friendly PetSmart staff.
Severity Closely Linked to Type of Chocolates Ingested
Emphasis must be made that dogs will not react in the same manner from chocolate consumption. The type and amount of chocolate ingested as well as the size, age and physical condition of the dog are the determining factors for the severity of the toxicity. For example, a large dog may have mild symptoms while a smaller dog will have severe symptoms from the consumption of a similar amount of milk chocolate.
Nonetheless, you have to be aware of the three types of chocolates and their effects on dogs:
- Baking chocolate has the highest concentration of methylxanthines. Even two pieces of small one-ounce squares can be toxic to a 20-pound dog, a concentration of just 0.1 ounce for every pound of weight.
- Semi-sweet chocolate has sufficient levels of methylxanthines to cause mild toxicity even at 0.3 ounces per pound of weight while severe toxicity occurs at 1 ounce per pound of weight. A 20-pound dog, for example, can experience severe toxicity with its consumption of 6 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate in any form.
- Milk chocolate has the lowest concentration of methylxanthines but its consumption can still result in mild to severe toxicity. Mild toxicity occurs at 0.7 ounces per pound of weight and severe toxicity happens at 2 ounces per pound of weight.
The chocolate foods with the highest concentrations of theobromine include Dutch cocoa (dry powder, processed, unsweetened); baking chocolate (squares or liquid, unsweetened); puddings in chocolate flavor; and syrups like Hershey’s Genuine Chocolate Flavored Light, to name a few. The rule of thumb: The darker the chocolate (i.e., dark chocolate), the higher the concentration of theobromine, and the greater the risks for severe toxicity.
As with all types of poisoning, early detection and treatment is the key to a successful recovery from chocolate poisoning. As soon as your dog develops the above mentioned clinical signs, you should head on to a veterinarian’s clinic for proper diagnosis and treatment.
Once in the clinic, your dog will be subjected to a series of physical examinations including urinalysis, electrolyte panel, and chemical blood profile to determine chocolate overdose. Your vet may also recommend an ECG for your dog, which will help in the determination of heart rate abnormalities including the conduction of heartbeats.
Since there is no known antidote to theobromine, your dog’s vet will apply a few measures to lessen the severity of the symptoms. These include washing out the stomach, feeding activated charcoal, and administering intravenous fluids and medication to control seizures, blood pressure, and heart rate.